Open Letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mr. Doudou Diene, November, 2007

Dear Mr. Diene,

As representatives of non-governmental human rights organizations engaged in combating racism, discrimination and xenophobia, we feel obliged to strongly support your report and recommendations devoted to the Russian Federation and presented on 11 June 2007 at the Fifth Session of the UN Human Rights Council.

We regard your report on the outcomes of your mission to Russia as well-balanced and unbiased. In our opinion, it captures the existing situation with the highest degree of precision. Almost all your recommendations are likewise worth thorough consideration and in many respects can serve as a program of essential measures to overcome discrimination and racism.

We highly appreciate that during your stay in Russia, in addition to your official program of meetings, you held meetings with a number of human rights NGOs, experts on ethnic relations, representatives of national minorities and diaspora communities. We are grateful to you for your careful consideration of the opinions of human rights activists, representatives of national minorities, and victims of racism and discrimination and for the fact that you used a large part of our data in drafting your report and recommendations.

Therefore, we were bewildered and deeply concerned with the official reaction of Ambassador Valery Loshchinin, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the U.N. Office at Geneva, who characterized your report as follows: “A range of problems in the sphere of racism and xenophobia was extrapolated [in the report] that which for our country either don’t exist at all or aren’t really that serious or systematic. There is no need to comment because the report is inappropriate, both in content and conceptually. We do not deny that, unfortunately, there have been incidents of racist or ethnic intolerance. However, to make far-reaching conclusions based on this fact about allegedly dominant tendencies within society and then, based on unproven data and falsifications, to assert that there are certain sins within the Russian political system, the justice system and the education system, is absurd.” We regard this assessment of the conscientious and thorough work of the Special Rapporteur as unacceptably harsh in style as well as unjust and false in essence. Such a statement by an official representative of the Russian Federation undermines the expectations of constructive cooperation between the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Russian Federation in the area of combating racism and discrimination. This sentiment expressed in the statement serves as yet more evidence of one of the key conclusions made in your report: the Russian government’s unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of racism as a factor of domestic public life becomes an obstacle to the fight against manifestations of racism.

Of further concern is the fact that Mr. Loshchinin stated that your report was allegedly based on “unproven data and falsifications,” a serious and flawed allegation that undermines the accuracy of the data systematically collected by our organizations and shared with the Special Rapporteur. We would like to state in conclusion that all the materials we shared with you are based on data that is scrupulously collected and verified by the staff members of our organizations. We stand ready to refute any of the accusations made by Russian officials in regard to the information provided for in your report.

Yours sincerely,
Stephania Kulaeva, St. Petersburg MEMORIAL
Aleksandr Osipov, Human Rights Center MEMORIAL
Aleksandr Verkhovsky, Sova Center for Information and Analysis
Svetlana Gannushkina, Civic Assistance Committee
Tanya Lokshina, DEMOS Center
Yury Dzhibladze, Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights
Natalya Taubina, Public Verdict Foundation
Anita Soboleva, Jurists for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms
Julia Harrington, Justice Initiative of Open Society Institute
Souhayr Belhassen, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

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